Given keeps cool for reunion with fired-up Bellamy

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The Independent Football

Not when you happen to be at Newcastle United, at any rate. As it happens, the Premiership trophy will be in Toon tomorrow, on display at Barclays Bank in Northumberland Street and strictly on loan from Stamford Bridge. In the past 36 years the only trophies put on display for the fans at St James' Park have been of the two-legged variety: the £15m Alan Shearer in the summer of 1996 and the £17m Michael Owen two weeks ago. As L P Hartley wrote of the past in The Go-Between, Newcastle United are like a foreign country: they do things differently there.

A fortnight after the astonishing spectacle of the Owen parade, a week after the fuss and hype of the Owen debut, the soap-operatic club of English football have a Sunday- afternoon omnibus featuring a grudge match between Craig Bellamy and Graeme Souness and a subplot of the New-castle manager's future potentially being on the line after five matches of the season and just the two points.

Given could be forgiven for shrugging his shoulders. He has seen it all - everything except some silverware, that is - in his eight years as the overworked last line of defence. "Yeah, I've seen a few things since I've been here," he mused. "Ideally, you would like a settled club and a settled team, but we're at a big club where there's a lot of speculation, where people want to know what's happening every minute, and as players we have to deal with that. You get used to it."

Newcastle's angst-ridden supporters have got used to Given's presence in goal as a rare, reassuring constant. The man from Donegal made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in August 1997, in a line-up also featuring Faust-ino Asprilla, Temuri Ketsbaia and Jon Dahl Tomasson. Shearer was injured. He is the only present player of more senior service to Newcastle than Given, whose £1.5m signing by Kenny Dalglish was accompanied by a notable absence of fanfares but whose sustained form has blown its own trumpet on Tyneside.

The chances are that the Magpies will need their steal of a keeper to be at his best again this afternoon. With a midfield shorn of the suspended Scott Parker and the injured Kieron Dyer, Emre Belozoglu and Nolberto Solano, the defence is likely to come under pressure from a Blackburn side featuring a fired-up Bellamy. "I'm sure he'll be looking to get one over on us," Given acknowledged of his former team-mate. "He can be a handful with his pace, so we'll have to be careful."

Given refused to be drawn on the popularity of the player who followed up his spat with Souness in January, when he branded his manager a liar in a television interview, with a mocking text message to Shearer after Newcastle's FA Cup semi-final defeat in April. He was keener to talk about Owen - "a natural goalscorer; one of the best strikers in the world" - and about Shearer, a natural goalscorer who has struck a prolonged rut.

The man whose goals brought the Premiership trophy to Ewood returns there looking to end a drought stretching back 17 matches. "Alan's scoring goals in training," Given said of his 35-year-old captain. "He's as hungry as ever. We've got to work as a team to improve the service to him, and to Michael."

Not that there is ever likely to be such a thing as normal service at Newcastle United.